Surprise Ending

Surprise Ending

Everybody in the Social Security Office heard the guy talking to himself. Or maybe he was singing.

The two women speaking Spanish, probably mother and daughter, looked anxiously at each. The heavy guy behind us stopped talking about how it was better with Trump and looked over at the guy.

So some of us were wondering about him, even before the incident. He was kind of twitchy, a little beat-up looking. He hadn’t shaved recently. He wore a leather jacket over a red T-shirt.

He missed his number when the woman with the scratchy voice called it over the speaker. Then, a few minutes after his number had been called, the guy looked up at the electronic board in the front of the room and saw that a number higher than his had been posted in one of the slots.

He got up, pulled out his ear buds, and stalked toward the nearest of the five windows.

“What about me? You gonna skip over me like last time?” he said.

“What was your number?” the clerk behind the window asked. She looked middle-aged and tired.

“A70,” he said. “You got A72 there now, right?”

“I called your number,” the woman said. “You didn’t respond. You’ll have to wait until I’m finished here with this lady, and then I’ll speak to you.”

The man stayed where he was and leaned forward to glare at the woman. Everything about him said he wasn’t going anywhere. The client getting her child’s benefits information straightened out would have to do it with this guy looking over her shoulder.

When it was his turn, the guy sat down and said, “I want my status.”

“Your status?” the clerk said.

“Yeah. Tell me my status. You wanted papers, and now I want my status.”

The clerk turned to her computer, typed for a moment, and checked the screen.

“I don’t know what you mean,” she said. “What are you here for?”

“I want my status,” the guy said. He’d gotten louder. “Get your supervisor.”

The clerk slid her chair back from the window and nodded. A moment later another woman appeared at her side. She looked tired, too.

“How can I help?” she asked.

“I want my status!” the guy said. Now he was shouting.

The second woman glanced at the computer screen.

“We can’t help you if you can’t tell us what you want,” she said. “’Your status.’ I don’t understand.”

“And you’re supposed to be a supervisor?” the guy shouted. “What a joke!”

“Sir,” said the supervisor, “If you can’t control yourself, I’ll have to ask you to leave.”

“It’s not complicated,” he whined. “I just want my status.”

Now a uniformed security guard who’d been watching the interaction approached the man and took him by the elbow. The man jerked his arm away. He stepped away from the window. He shook his head, looked from the clerk to the security guard, and took a few steps toward the door.

He had the attention of a roomful of people, all of whom had been waiting, some of them for an hour or more, with nothing to look at but the electronic board full of numbers that weren’t theirs.

There was nothing more to the scuffle. The man who’d wanted his status turned back toward the clerks just once, then turned again and left the room. He didn’t say anything more.

This is the United States of America in 2013. Everybody knows what happens next, right?

The security guard returned to a stool at the end of the counter. Two new numbers appeared on the board. The woman with a scratchy voice announced them. Two more people moved to the windows, sat down, and told the clerks what they needed.

It was a little after three o’clock. The office would be open for another hour.

The man who had wanted his status didn’t come back with a gun.

Bill Littlefield